He shook as he knelt on the crusty ground. Sharp pebbles jabbing into his knees were the cause of his whimper but the eruption of noise from the crowd had drowned them.
“Little man!” a man who pushed his way through the sea of heads called out. A mass of black beards plastered on his jaw and his owl-like eyes scowling at the little boy as he neared. He pushed the little boy’s face up, reveling his crumpled face and trembling lips. “What are you called?” he asked, pushing a stick of cigarette into his mouth and then he took a drag. The thick cloud of smoke hit the little boy’s nose, letting the unforgiving peppery sensation spread beneath his chest as they sipped down into his lungs.
“H–h–akim,” the little boy stuttered and coughed, before he stared into the man’s face with misty eyes.
“Hakim! Look around you.” Hakim did as he was instructed. “What did you see?”
“I see boys. I see men. Men and boys clutching machetes and guns.”
Hakim held his chest tightly, trying to quell the storm swirling in his heart. Hakim thought it was safer in the woods. And even before his father died, he had told him to run into the woods. “Run into the woods. Stay there until the war is over.” Those were his last words to Hakim.
“Hakim, you’re wrong!” The leader of the group ambled across to a farther distance while he took another drag but this time he pushed the smoke into another boy’s face who was called Striker. “Hakim, what you see in this boy is a brother. He’s from Elenta and just like you,” he said as he poked his finger into striker’s chest. “I have gotten your full story and I must say it’s a pathetic one. But I promise you, we will help you avenge the death of your parents.”
The war between Ikem clan and Elenta clan of Umuokwe village, over a large expanse of land, had claimed lives and properties including Hakim’s parents. But Hakim didn’t want to avenge anybody’s death. If he was asked, he would prefer to let God fight his battles. His mother had once said to him, “Let God always fight your battle my son.”
The master of the group grabbed onto Hakim’s shirt and dragged him up to his feet. The breath of his mouth reaching Hakim’s nose reeked of rotten garbage.
“As if we planned it all, there is a present we have for you.” At the master’s signal, two hefty men emerged from the crowd as they dragged a man to the center. A white short was on the man’s waist and a mass of dark hair matting his bare chest. They kicked at his knee, forcing him to kneel in front of hakim.
“Hakim!” the master screamed. “Take!” he screamed again and stretched out his other hand clutching onto a cutlass. Reluctantly, Hakim took it from him. “Hakim! You are going to kill this man with that thing.”
His words were raw and heavy. Hakim’s heart pounded in his chest as he fought to hold firmly his sweaty hands onto the cutlass. Hakim moved back trying to face the man squarely. As his gaze met the man’s, his pounding heart stiffened.
“Please, I have a son,” the man said, his head bent to the side, a sign Hakim could not miss as pity. The chains bounding the man’s hands to his back had left unforgiving bruises from his tireless struggles to let them free.
“Hakim! We don’t have time, do it now,” the master thundered, startling Hakim and he jerked.
He raised the cutlass above his head and moved closer as he aimed the man’s skull.
“Do it boy!” the master roared again and that was the last thing Hakim heard.
The cutlass slipped from his hand and he dropped to the ground.